Monday, November 15, 2004

Angkor Wat in Virtual Reality

Angkor Wat

Here's some background on the amazingly ambitious World Heritage Virtual Reality Tour:

The WHTour is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a documentary and educational image bank of printable panoramic pictures and online virtual tours for all sites registered as World Heritage by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). All panoramas are shooted, built and uploaded on this website by Tito Dupret, a 33 year-old multimedia director from Belgium and Bijuan Chen, his 26-year old multimedia assistant from China.

So far, they have covered Bangladesh, Eastern Canada, China, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam. This represents 13.2 % of all 788 WH sites : 104 sites with 525+ Virtual Reality movies (VRs) available via the above menus. This project is at its beginning only and will need years to complete. The WHTour is slowly growing since July 2001 and constantly seeking financial help in order to pursue its mission. People involved in the WHTour are volunteering.

The following explanation about Virtual Reality is taken from the World Heritage Tour site, and gives some background on the fabulous VR images found at their homepage. You'll need Quicktime and some patience - about 60 seconds - to download each file if you're still stuck with 56K dial-up connections.

Quicktime and virtual reality

In order to navigate through the WHTour web site, you need to download the Quicktime plugin. It is easy, fast, free. You will then be able to navigate in virtual reality movies the way described here. Once you've downloaded a VR file, click once directly into the image, then hold the mouse down and drag it around. You seem to fly around the image in all directions, a 360 degree exploration of the environment. You can also zoom in closer with the "shift" key or zoom out with "ctrl" key.

What is virtual reality (VR)?

Virtual reality opens up the world to us in a way hitherto unknown, by allowing people to visit almost any place from practically any location without time constraints. It is a media drawing upon traditional photography and film industry. It depicts more than a photo but without the time limits of a movie. It is an interactive media meaning that the audience is active. Without their participation, the VR movie would be without animation ; in essence the audience gives life to the picture by viewing it from various angles, zooming in/out and clicking hyperlinks/icons.

It is also a very "light" and practical media. One person with skills and a backpack is enough to cover any site in the world. For this reason, it is inexpensive to produce compared to other animated systems. Moreover, it is a broad-ranging medium insofar as it can be supported on many different media systems, from a light web interface to heavy cinema productions or any printing support and at any quality level.

What is QuickTime VR ?

QuickTime VR lets you rotate your view of a scene through a complete 360 horizontal x 180-degree vertical sphere. As you change your view of the scene, correct perspective is maintained, creating the effect of being at the location and looking around. QuickTime VR is the first mainstream technology to enable theses experiences based on real world scenes.

How does the WHTour create virtual reality movies?

Taking a selection of digital images, each VR movie is made by stitching together 28 of these images. The computer creates the effect of being inside a sphere giving the user the scope to view all around oneself at 360 x 180 degrees. Actually, this sphere is made with the six separate sides of a cube : the front, right, back, left, top and bottom sides. The borders of each side connect to the others and the illusion is perfect.

For the WHTour, all VR movies are produced on site with a laptop and then disseminated on the internet through local connections. Each VR is about 1/2 day postproduction according to the complexity of stitching. Each VR of the WHTour is manually stitched.

Angkor Wat in Virtual Reality

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